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Pro Se Rhode Island Prisoner Wins First Amendment Settlement

by Derek Gilna

Edward McCable, a Rhode Island prisoner housed in the High Security Center (HSC) at the state’s Adult Correctional Institution, successfully sued the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RI DOC) for restricting his access to religious publications. Without the benefit of an attorney, McCable obtained a settlement on May 16, 2017 that allowed him to receive the publications while establishing a procedure for appealing the exclusion of reading materials that prison officials find objectionable.

As stated by McCable in his handwritten complaint, “This is a Section 1983 action ... alleging violation of [my] Constitutional Rights to receive publications and seeking injunctive relief and money damages....”

McCable described how prison staff banned 13 publications that were primarily directed at African American prisoners who were followers of Islam, which appeared to contradict the RI DOC’s own policy. According to policy, “A publication may not be rejected solely because its content is religious, philosophical, social, or sexual, or because its content is unpopular or repugnant.”

As McCable wrote in his complaint, according to the RI DOC’s policy on publications, “Incoming non-privileged mail is disapproved only to prevent interference with facility goals of security, order, discipline, rehabilitation, or [that] might facilitate, encourage, or instruct in criminal activity.” McCable convinced the federal district court that the RI DOC had violated its own policy and lacked a mechanism for prisoners to appeal publication rejections.

Pursuant to the settlement, the RI DOC agreed “to create a list of banned publications” while McCable agreed to provide a list of publications that he wishes to have reviewed. Additionally, the settlement provided for a seven-day review period for the publications he wants to purchase, and specified they would not be denied solely because they pertain to Islam or Black History, or have LGBTQ content. The parties agreed to no admission of liability and no monetary damages in the case. See: McCable v. Aul, U.S.D.C. (D. RI), Case No. 1:16-cv-00441-JJM-LDA.


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Related legal case

McCable v. Aul